Holness in a whole mess
I really don't like it when young, bright politicians blunder and the public beats them like a Scottish cricket team. Nevertheless, it is just as unpleasant when our vaunted leader of Opposition, Andrew Holness, makes wrong steps and does so with such deftness that one wonders if he took some special training in it.
Holness burst on the scene as a bright young lad in the 1990s, still with the aroma and stains of breast milk on his face. This blue-eyed boy, by the time he became leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and eventually prime minister, had built up a decent résumé, and on paper, seemed a good counterfoil for the juggernaut of the People's National Party (PNP) which had won all but one of the contested general elections since 1980.
Andrew was born just a few months after the PNP smashed a JLP administration out of power in 1972, and by dint of his youth could not have possibly been party to the creation of garrison communities, some of which are now in his constituency. He knows nothing of the routing of PNP sympathisers from 'Back a Wall' as Tivoli Gardens became a JLP enclave. And he would find it incredible that the constituency of his nemesis, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, was originally a JLP stronghold, with D.C. Tavares beating trade unionist Hopeton Caven with 7,485 votes to 4,152 in 1967.
And despite the unfounded rumours of the lack of scholarship and academic finesse and discomfort with Standard English of Simpson Miller, his two degrees from the prestigious University of the West Indies often cause him to be portrayed as the squeaky-clean intellectual counterfoil of the prime minister. When he took over the mantle of the party, his approval ratings were high as education minister, and it looked as if the next election was his for the taking.
Nonetheless, blunder one: he showed signs that he was not easily swayed by what others, including just-minded people, thought. With the appointment of his personal adviser, Alphansus Davis, as chairman of the Teachers' Services Commission (TSC) in 2011, he showed that although he was not quite a dictator, we at least had seen the first half. Clearly, it would have been against good democracy and was a conflict of interest. After all, the TSC, like all public services commissions, is responsible for the appointment of public officers within its remit. Importantly, it is supposed to be relatively neutral, giving transparency and probity to overall terms and conditions of teachers. The teachers in this instance are expected to be appointed and administered in a politically sterile environment.
Despite protestations, and the total illogic of his action, Holness was relentless, and like a petulant child, would not recant until then Prime Minister Bruce Golding intervened. To date, the only remorse Holness expressed was in the way the appointment was made, not in making it at all.
There is an old Jamaican adage about sleep marking death. Holness might have earned his moniker 'Baby Bruce' because Golding had used heavy-handed tactics in kicking out the Public Services Commission a few years earlier, because its commissioners had properly and rationally appointed Rhodes Scholar and law professor, Stephen Vasciannie, as solicitor general. For reasons still unknown or which "I can't recall", the best candidate was not the desired character, who Golding could have used later, to be improperly involved in the Manatt matter, which eventually ended his tenure as prime minister.
Holness seems to have learned from Golding to fear bright people being close to him, especially when giving legal advice.
This present debacle is not only repugnant, but is as rancid as a ram goat in heat. The fact that Holness asked his senators to sign their undated 'death warrants', and that Arthur Williams was so dotish and/or dishonest to design it, should have told the Labourites that Holness had don-like aspirations and when it came to democracy and freedom of conscience, one should simply kiss him and ask no questions.
There is a reason why parliamentarians cannot be removed by the political leadership, and the Senate is a House of Parliament. There is an underlying principle that once in, the machinations of wannabe despots cannot remove a judge. That is why there is a Judicial Services Commission. Similarly, public servants cannot be dismissed merely for having a different opinion from a minister. Can one imagine the strictures the citizens would live under if the political leaders could frivolously dismiss a member of parliament because of dissent?
Role of senators
Holness must understand that in a Westminster democracy, a senator is recommended and appointed not to serve every behest and petty nuance of the political leader. Rather, senators are placed to keep the balance of political power and to prevent undue political manipulation of the democratic process.
Perhaps, the anti-bright people ethos causes him to reject the knowledge of another Rhodes scholar and law academic - his own colleague parliamentarian - Delroy Chuck, who did not drive to Belmont Road after giving his lucid opinion that Holness had acted wrongly.
Now, after, repenting in church about the error of his ways, a flip-flopping Holness has recanted his recantation and flat-footed some of his very own Labourites by appealing the judgment of three learned judges, including one who is himself a Rhodes Scholar.
Perhaps Holness knows the law more than these legal experts, but he is the same Andrew who ignored the 60 per cent of Jamaicans who said 'no December election', and the same Andrew who closed his eyes on history and took on the press in 2011, ensuring his defeat in the next election. A word to the wise is sufficient, and Holness has already received many.
For his party's sake, he had better not squander the lead in the recent polls by the brilliant Don Anderson.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and tayloronblackline